Indigeneous Peoples In The Canadian Taiga

ENVIRONMENT: Indigenous peoples join global snow forests coalition

An Inter Press Service Feature

By Pratap Chatterjee

EDMONTON, Aug 24 (IPS) - Canadian indigenous groups have announced their support for the Taiga Rescue Network (TRN), a new global network dedicated to protecting forests outside the tropics, that is meeting here this week.

This city, which is the capital of the Canadian province of Alberta, has been named forestry capital of Canada this year, in recognition of its booming business in logging and pulp production.

Some 250 people from 30 countries are attending the TRN meeting to discuss the problems of such increases in logging in temperate and colder climates. They will also look at the ecological effects of this trade and alternative sustainable methods of working in northern forests.

Bernard Ominayak, the chief of the Cree people of Lubicon lake which lies over 400 kilometres north of this city in Alberta province, says that the new business in this province threatens to destroy his people, who depend on these forests and its associated streams for survival.

''We are joining TRN to fight logging companies owned by Japanese multinationals like Daishowa and Mitsubishi who have got concessions to log on 40,000 square kilometres of our land,'' he said.

Tzeporah Berman, a campaigner for Greenpeace Canada, explains that the logging companies employ the standard Canadian practice of ''clearcutting'' with mechanical harvesters to generate quick and large profits.

''The industrial practice of clearcutting, cutting down all the trees in an area, has irreversible effects on the water system and the biodiversity of the island. For example salmon habitat is destroyed by the massive erosion caused by this type of logging together with the destruction of sacred sites of the indigenous people,'' she said.

The Japan Tropical Forest Action Network (JATAN), a founding member of TRN, offered their support to the Lubicon Cree to fight the Japanese companies. Yoichi Kuroda, of JATAN, said he tried to arrange meetings for Ominiyak in Japan with the companies without success.

''Now we will launch a consumer campaign against these companies and the Canadian government. Right now the Canadian government only charges 30 to 50 cents per cubic metre of aspen wood harvested here in Alberta which is why forestry practices are so destructive,'' said Kuroda.

Several other Canadian indigneous groups who helped found TRN in October 1992 in Jokkmokk, Sweden, also promised support to the Lubicon Cree.

Daniel Ashini, of the Innu people of Labrador in the far east of Canada who helped found TRN, talked about their own fight against logging, military training and over fishing on native lands.

''The people in Labrador have been sustained by our fish. For years we have been telling the government that we have been seeng the changes in the fishing grounds. Today there is no cod left because they listened to the western scientists instead of to us. The same is now happening to our forests,'' he said.

Russell Diabo, a Mohawk native from the province of Quebec, another founder of TRN, explained that the Lubicon could learn a lot from the tactics employed by the Algonquin Cree of northwestern Quebec province, to fight logging over the last decade.

''The Algonquin took their protests to parliament hill, and then to the highways where they stopped cars to explain their problems. Then they blocked logging roads until they got an agreement from the provincial government to protect 10,000 square kilometres,'' he told the Lubicon Cree.

Greenpeace International forests coordinator Patrick Anderson told the group that they had been very successful in changing some of the logging practices in western Canada where they helped the Nuu-chah-nulth native people of Vancouver island to fight clearcutting by MacMillan-Bloedel, the Candian forestry company.

''By taking our campaign to the consumers in Europe like the big publishers we have had Canadian contracts cancelled and conditions attached to a billion dollars worth of forestry products,'' said Anderson.

Other new members of TRN like the Cree native peoples of Canoe Lake in northern Saskatchewan said they were facing similar problems as the Lubicon Cree. They explained that they lost a major portion of their lands to a weapons testing range in the 1950s and now they too were faced with new plans for logging their lands.

Some native groups like the Nuu-chah-nulth and the Algonquin have won government agreements to change logging practices. The most significant achievement to date is an agreement with the Haisla native peoples that was announced last week for a company to give up logging rights in the Kitlope valley of the province of British Columbia near the city of Vancouver.

Others like the Nisga and the Haida, also of British Columbia, are still negotiating to protech their lands while the Li'l Wat, who are near the city of Vancouver, have been blocking logging roads this summer in an attempt to stop logging on their lands.

Canada alone harvested 163.8 million cubic metres of temperate and boreal wood in 1990 most of which was used for products from paper to plywood.

Roger Olsson, editor of the Taiga Trade, a report on the production and consumption of products from boreal forests, says that the figures are steadily rising.

By his calculations in 1990, 33 percent of the world's industrial roundwood production, 36 percent of the world's sawn wood production and19 percent of the world's paper production came from boreal forests.